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At the heart of the relationship is the EU-Laos Cooperation Agreement of 1997. It provides the framework for relations, setting out areas for cooperation and formalising the commitment of the two parties. A Joint Committee, held every two years in Vientiane or Brussels, allows the EU and the Government of Laos to formulate recommendations and set priorities. Collaboration also takes place on the regional and international stage through organisations such as ASEAN and ASEM.
The EU is one of Laos' biggest development partner in terms of grant aid for development cooperation and humanitarian assistance, and also an important trade partner. The EU programme for Laos 2014-2020 (EUR 207 million) focuses on nutrition, education and governance, while also tackling issues such as UXO decontamination, gender equality and climate change. Starting from 2016, European partners (EU, EU countries and Switzerland) are coordinating more closely on development cooperation through the European Joint Programming (2016-2020), which sets out a common vision, priorities, approach, division of labour and planned spending. Taken together, the EU and EU countries are the 4th biggest development donor in Laos, committing around EUR 70 million annually.
Our relationship covers many areas and also includes a yearly EU-Lao PDR dialogue on human rights and good governance. The EU supports a wide range of human rights initiatives carried out by International Non-Governmental Organizations INGOs, Lao Non-Profit Associations NPA and other Civil Society Organisations, in particular through the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR).
In its economic relations with Least Developed Countries, the EU combines specific development cooperation with initiatives to help trade and boost sustainable economic growth. The 'Everything but Arms' initiative gives unlimited access for exports from Laos to the EU market, opening the door to the biggest single market in the world. EU countries also maintain their own economic relations with Lao PDR. Trade has been growing gradually and has reached EUR 362 million in 2015.
The EU-Laos relationship is about more than just trade and development. Some EU countries have developed projects to safeguard and promote Laos' cultural wealth; from temple restoration, conservation of centuries old Buddhist palm leaf manuscripts, support to the concept of a Museum of Buddhist Art and a list of endangered art objects, or training of Lao authorities in cultural management and architecture. The EU Delegation works alongside them to support various events such as the EU Film Festival and the Vientiane boat race. Educational links are also important. Both EU countries and the EU offer scholarships for Lao students and academics to study at higher education institutions in Europe.